Hannah Robinson Head Pastry Chef for Fine Dining, Hospitality and Retail for Goldman Sachs at BaxterStorey

The Staff Canteen

“Staff wellbeing and mental health in the catering industry should be focused on to ensure the future generation of chefs” - Hannah Robinson

Written by: 
Natasha Spencer-Jolliffe

Accomplishing many pinch-me moments, Hannah Robinson, Head Pastry Chef at Goldman Sachs, for BaxterStorey, puts becoming a mental health first aider and champion of better understanding and wellbeing in hospitality, as one of her proudest.

Working in hospitality, fine dining and retail as Head Pastry Chef at Goldman Sachs for BaxterStorey, an independent hospitality provider, for over six years and in hospitality for 13 years, it’s clear Hannah’s love for food and the sector goes way further back, born from time spent in the kitchen with her family.

It started with Nanny Cake…

“Definitely grandparents”, Hannah enthuses when asked what first sparked her interest in becoming a chef, remembering her afternoons baking mini chocolate chip cupcakes with her great-grandma, Nanny Cake. “My parents threw many dinner parties, and I always used to like getting involved in cooking for them, which worked out amazingly for them, and I developed my passion for it,” Hannah shares.

At secondary school, Hannah studied catering as a GCSE, which helped her hone in on her excitement for food. Hospitality always stood out as a career path for Hannah, and she has been working with and creating food since a young age. “It’s been my only job,” she shares.

Hannah Robinson Pastry Chef BaxterStorey

First working as a waitress, she moved into food quickly. And after starting her career as a general chef, she “realised her love for pastry overtook that”. Entering the catering world after finishing college with a Level 3 patisseries qualification, she joined BaxterStorey in 2016 as a Chef de Partie in pastry before working her way up to leading a team and becoming the head pastry chef for a whole building. “So, it’s been quite an experience”.

Moving from making to managing

Going from chef to manager sees so many other factors become your responsibility. From regulatory understanding, allergen management, nutrition and labelling to looking after a team, that shift was significant. “I found the transition challenging but rewarding,” Hannah shares.

Since Hannah started in hospitality over 13 years ago, she’s seen huge changes, namely massive efforts to give more accurate insights into the catering and hospitality industry and make it more friendly. “The mental health support that’s in hospitality now is a massive highlight, which is needed,” says Hannah.

Drawing on many negative stigmas attached to being a chef, which suggest you have to get on with it and burn yourself out as part of the job, thankfully, Hannah says, now, that is very much not the case. “I’m glad about it because, nowadays, you shouldn’t be expected to go to work 24/7, with no work-life balance.”

Celebrity chefs are also endorsing mental health awareness and support in the work environment, too, championing efforts and helping them become industry-wide. BaxterStorey works alongside charities to support the industry and put mental health at the forefront of the workplace. While Hannah says, “the high-stress side of it will never go away, and that is the nature of the job,” she says, “The way you keep passion alive is enjoying your job, and you can’t want anything if you’re burnt out, right?”.

The Burnt Chef Project has a 24-hour support service and mental health ambassadors. Hannah, a mental health first aider, completed her mental health training with the project. Charity representatives came to their location and taught tips and ways to deal with situations in the kitchen, complete with e-learning, events and resources to support and train staff. “They are an excellent project, and their Instagram is great as well because it will bring up the people who work alongside them and show you their story,” Hannah says.

Hannah Robinson Pastry Chef BaxterStorey

Following their training, Hannah’s team makes one-to-one catch-ups a regular part of their week, and coffee chats a monthly occurrence. Trying to balance mental wellbeing with shift patterns and the intensity of service that Hannah mentions comes with the job is missing the point. “It’s not a case of balancing it. You just make it happen,” Hannah asserts.

Hannah and her team will look at their weeks’ worth of business and put time into their calendars to block out, leave the kitchen and talk. “And I turn my phone off so I can’t be distracted.” Investing in the group and team value adds value to your company. “Having a strong, stable team is your best business asset.”

Saying yes

Hannah’s commitment to her team and continuing to make mental health more than a conversation in hospitality, backed up with understanding and actions, are among her biggest accomplishments to date. And they have culminated in her, this year, being nominated for Contract Caterer Chef of the Year in the Craft Guild of Chefs Awards 2023.

“[It] felt amazing because there were a lot of nominees, and I got invited along, and I went to the dinner, and my name was on the screen and in the little booklet, and I got to take my partner as well—that’s definitely a standout moment, and I was quite proud of myself”.

In a nod to Hannah’s passion for giving back and helping others both in and out of the kitchen, she took part in cooking live on air to raise money for the Women for Women project. Broadcast globally, Hannah was the representative chef for the England division in the cooking event. “I don’t think I knew how big it would be when I said yes to doing it.”

Hannah made a buttermilk panna cotta with a taste of pink peppercorn and raspberry. Despite being “so nervous”, it was a true testament to saying yes, having just 30 minutes to produce the dish, plate it and explain her process throughout, answering questions from its host and guest speakers.

In preparation, Hannah looked through her recipe, her timings and ensured she had all her ingredients: “I’m a massive stickler for having to see everything in place before it happens physically”. But knowing herself and her process was a big part of her career highlight. “I hate to say I didn’t do a practice run, I work better when I’ve not over-rehearsed.”

Working for BaxterStorey is a proud achievement, too, Hannah says, admiring the equity and inclusivity drives they’re currently putting in place, including working alongside environmental change in hospitality. “They have quite a big passion for people.” There are training courses, chef and beverage academies and incentives to get people in and grow them within the business. “We have great people who we can work alongside.”

Listen, learn and love what you do

Following a career as a chef requires a great deal of commitment as it’s a considerable part of your life. “It’s a very nice hobby, but a tough job,” Hannah was advised in college, with her lecturers being upfront about how tough a job it is to get into. “But you’ll meet people and do amazing things if you have a passion.”

Now, Hannah passes that sage advice onto others. “To carry that hobby over into a job, you need assistance and guidance.” High-stress levels, shift patterns, and lengthy amounts of time spent in the kitchen all mean “it’s an intense job to hold”, Hannah says, sharing “I probably wasn’t fully prepared for that side”.

After all, hospitality on TV tells a different, comedic story and is “very unrealistic”, Hannah says. Like Monica from 90s classic sitcom Friends, for example: “She’s a chef, but she’s always away from work. And when she’s at work, she’s cutting one carrot, and that’s her day—in real life, the catering industry is very different to that”.

Although great hobbies make for hard jobs, they’re fulfilling ones, too. “There is progression, amazing opportunities out there, surrounded by places to work and skills to gain.” Listen and learn from others and their experience. Use that to become your own person. “You’re going to get told a lot of advice in the industry; listen to it all because it’s invaluable, but use that to throw into your style, passion and projection to where you want to go.”

For anyone wanting to become a chef, Hannah encourages them to follow their flair for flavour, ingredients and style. “Be creative and input your love for food into everything you do.” Hannah’s favourite phrase, which her teammates say, is ‘good mood, good food’. “The passion you have for food shows in your dish 100%—it’s definitely going in with a good attitude and thinking this food reflects who I am.”

The opportunities to grow and gain more than a job are there. “You’ll meet some great people; we work with probably the most diverse set of teams you can meet—and it’s great, you make friends, and you get to experience other cultures and ways of living.”

Hannah is particularly aware of this advice: “It needs attention because there are other attractive jobs out there”. She adds: “There needs to be a huge focus on the upcoming generation because if I didn’t have a good experience or good guidance or influence from a school or my family, I wouldn’t have wandered into the hospitality industry.”


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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd November 2023

Hannah Robinson Head Pastry Chef for Fine Dining, Hospitality and Retail for Goldman Sachs at BaxterStorey